Apathy in the Executive
May 6, 2014 Leave a comment
In the last few years, I’ve said some fairly harsh things about Peggy Noonan. Part of that is because I expect a lot from her. Anybody who could have written Reagan’s Pointe du Hoc speech for the 40th Anniversary of D-Day; knows enough not to be taken in by the Cult of Obama™. And in truth, when she gets out of Manhattan, and brings her A game, there are few better. Apparently she went to the canonization the other day, and this was the result.
Friends and I kept seeing groups of Poles who’d taken planes or 20-hour bus rides to be here for the canonization of John Paul II. They did not look wealthy. A lot of them wouldn’t have had tickets to the big Mass because the Vatican kept saying there were no tickets. (In fact there were, and they were thoughtfully color-coded.) A lot of them knew they’d spend a rainy night on the floor of a church or, some of them, wrapped in plastic parkas as they slept on the street on yoga mats they carried on their backpacks. Many would watch the proceedings on a Jumbotron in a piazza far from St. Peter’s. They didn’t care. They came anyway because they loved him. He was enmeshed in their lives, and whether they’d known him or not they felt enmeshed in his. Lech Walesa, at an American reception, seemed to speak for them when I asked how he felt to see his old friend elevated. “I feel I will have a friend in Heaven to greet me if I get there,” he said.
In the days before and after the canonization, I couldn’t help reflect on what a leader is, and how it is that great leaders engender gratitude, loyalty and love.
You have to stand for something. You have to suffer for it. (John Paul was shot and almost killed, and he spent the last third of his pontificate in constant physical distress. He kept showing up anyway.) You have to be brave. (He wasn’t afraid of any earthly power, not even the Soviet Union.) You have to stand by your beliefs as long as you know they are right; you have to speak and write the truth. […]
She’s obviously right, and she should know better than most, after all she spent the Reagan years in the White House, and did a good job of capturing Reagan in her speechwriting. There’s considerable more there that you should read. And there is this further down in the column.
To be in Europe is to realize, again and at first hand, that America has experienced a status shift. Europeans know we are powerful—we have the most drones and bombs and magic robot soldiers—but they don’t think we are strong. They’ve seen our culture; we exported it. The Internet destroyed our ability to keep under wraps, at least for a while, our embarrassments. People everywhere read of our daily crimes and governmental scandals. The people of old Europe thought we were great not only because we were wealthy but because we were good. We don’t seem so good now. And they know we’re not as wealthy as we were.
And you know, I suspect she is exactly right here. We’ve never been exactly shy about putting our troubles right in the show window. A Canadian commentator during the Watergate mess, many years ago commented on that tendency of ours. If you’re my age, you probably remember it, it was widely republished here. If not, here it is.
And you know, he proved pretty much correct, but we didn’t really get back on track till the ’80s. Now, we publicize our problems even more, not least because of the internet, which makes us look even worse, but if we work through it, it can make the recovery even swifter, than it was then.
But you know, as do I, that our problems this time are not external, they are internal. Are we still the traditional free American, or have we turned into a bunch of statists no different from our European cousins. You know the ones, those who didn’t have the drive our ancestors did for a better life and for freedom. Like so many things, time will tell.
But I have to tell you, I’m far less confident in my countrymen than I was in the ’70s. Then I had no doubt that we would come roaring back, now I find myself doubting it, and strongly too.
If that is so, it will be a sad end to the dream